A recent news headline grabbed my attention and for once it wasn’t about COVID. It still managed to insinuate that my life was at risk. It announced a recent university study had concluded that eating a hot dog shortens a person’s life by thirty-six minutes. That sounds like an expensive meal, really, even if a drink and fries are included. The news sent me wandering down memory lane, fruitlessly trying to recall every hot dog I’d ever consumed and wondering what it had cost me.
In a frankfurter version of A Christmas Carol, the ghost of hot dogs past whisked me back to Bray Park in Siler City where we played Little League baseball games. Apparently being hit by a wild pitch wasn’t the greatest risk taken after all. After winning those contests, the coach often marched us to the concession stand and treated the team to hot dogs and soft drinks. This news about the life shortening effect of these tubular delicacies could make a guy wish to play for a losing team. Granted, we weren’t the best in the league but those post-win celebrations will have shaved a few hours off my life.
And then there were campfires and bonfires, where cooking hot dogs on a stick was part of the fun. It was a noteworthy accomplishment to stand close enough to the fire to successfully cook the wiener until it was blackened but you weren’t burnt. Not dying from germs on cooking forks that lived out in a shed or under the porch, unobserved and unbothered for months at a time, was an additional bonus. Even so, along with the good times in the glowing fire and night air, had the Grim Reaper deducted 36 minutes per dog from our lives without our knowing it? In my case it would have been 72 minutes per cookout because I almost always ate two!
Plus, there were church cook outs. Those events usually involved a charcoal grill rather than an open fire. One of the church members back in North Carolina worked at a local plant that manufactured hot dogs. Their best-selling variety, called the deli wiener, I think, had a pinkish color. To this day, it is the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted, but for whatever reason it couldn’t be purchased in stores. Thanks to that employee, we always had these tasty treats at Edward Hill cookouts. Who knew that the church, such a strong advocate for eternal life, was unintentionally pushing us in that direction 36 minutes at a time whenever it served hot dogs!
This news could be a huge blow to American identity. Ever since the mid 1970’s when television ads sang about baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, these bun-stuffed delicacies have enjoyed a certain status among the masses. Immediately upon reading the news of their life shortening effect I thought of contestants in hot dog eating contests. They cram 50 or more hot dogs down the hatch in a very short span of time. The current record is 76 in 10 minutes. Another article reporting the same university study also referenced one well-known hot dog eating champ who estimated he’d eaten 19,200 hot dogs over the course of his competition. Do the math and that amounts to 1.3 years he may have lost thanks to his competency in pursuing this passion. We all have to go sometime, so maybe it is a worthwhile trade-off if you’re doing what you love. Even so, it is a sobering realization. What is 36 minutes’ worth these days?
Not only are these wieners amazingly popular but everyone has their preferred way to prepare them. Folks from my corner of the world in North Carolina liked to order them “all the way.” All the way to what or where, I never knew. But ask for one and expect to find it covered with mustard, slaw, chili, and onions. Sometimes a long chunk of cheese could be added, but that makes it a cheese dog rather than all the way. Here in Indiana, hardly anyone has ever heard of slaw on any type of sandwich. Some consider it blasphemous to even consider the idea, like the cook who refused to put it on my hot dog as ordered, sending it to me in a bowl as a side dish instead. He said he couldn’t bring himself to do that to a sandwich. I’d have to add it myself if that’s how I wanted it. However, I did recently see a slaw dog on a menu in a nearby town. What I don’t know is if it still includes a wiener, or if it is just slaw in a bun. Here in Hoosier land it could go either way, depending on the chef, I guess. Add just chili and it is called a Coney dog. More cookouts than I care to recall serve hot dogs with nothing more than mustard or catsup. That’s like hosting a party in your underwear. I suppose there may be some occasions where that is appropriate, but in most cases it is not unreasonable to expect a little more to dress up the dog. For some, that little more is pickle relish. If I’m honest, I must confess that I’ve grown fond of relish as a stand-in when slaw isn’t available. In Illinois order one Chicago-style and prepare to receive a dog with a dill pickle spear or sweet pickle relish, tomatoes, peppers, yellow mustard, and maybe even poppy seed sprinkle. I’ve seen a recipe for a BLT dog—shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, crumbled bacon and little bit of ranch dressing. Want to feel like it’s a gourmet experience? Try caramelized onion and a melted cheddar cheese. Longing for the islands? Try it Hawaiian style with pineapple, minced onions and barbecue sauce.
If the drain on your life span doesn’t discourage you from eating a hot dog, read an account of the kinds of things that go into making a wiener and you may have second thoughts about eating one. Search “hot dog trimmings” on the web expecting a list of condiment preferences and you’ll instead be treated to articles about the by-products used to create them. “Trimmings” is a nice, vague term. Suddenly, 36 minutes seems like a bargain. Read too closely and it might turn your stomach for a minute or give you paws – I mean pause — as to whether or not you should give them up altogether. My guess is that worry will pass, if not before then as soon as your mouth begins to water at the sight and sound of another one sizzling on the grill.
For reasons I don’t understand hot dogs have a huge following – and you can count me among them. If their ingredients won’t dissuade us, then perhaps knowledge of a life shortening effect will (or should?). But wait. Call me nothing if not creative. I was laboring with how we might tie those 36 lost minutes to unpleasant experiences. Like, could I trade 36 hot dog minutes for an equal amount of time waiting in stalled highway traffic? Or perhaps exchange them for committee meetings that drone on forever and leave you feeling, if not dead, at least zombie like? Admit it – either of those can feel like wasted or lost time. Those are trades I might make and feel good about.
But then, inspiration struck. The same article bearing the sad news of the lost 36 hot dog minutes also noted that a snack-sized helping of nuts could add 20 minutes to our lives. Suddenly the solution was obvious. Add two of those helpings of nuts as yet another condiment variation to the hot dog. The 40 minutes gained by the double helping of nuts cancels the 36 minutes lost by the hot dog, even leaving us with a 4 minute surplus. Suddenly, hot dogs become part of a life lengthening nutritional scheme. If I grind the nuts finely enough I could probably mix mine with slaw and hardly know they were there.
We could well spend a wealth of time fussing about how to add a few minutes here or there to our lives. Unfortunately, one report conflicts with another. One generation’s food pyramid gets revamped by the next group in charge. What is a person to do? Perhaps live sensibly (whatever that means!). Weigh the risks of your choices. Being a Quaker, you can expect me to add something like let the Truth that comes from within guide your dietary choices. Above all, enjoy whatever route you take, doing good along the way. You can’t know in advance how many minutes are on your life’s clock; the important thing is to have no regrets when the microwave dings.